14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, 9 May 2-18 — After months of instability in the supply of salt, this week Cuba’s official media have finally addressed the shortage caused by the lack of raw materials and the damages left by Hurricane Irma. Granma attributes the worsening situation to the interruption in the importation of iodine, a problem that, in spite of being currently solved according to sources speaking to 14ymedio, has had effects that are still noticeable on the island’s dinner tables.
“When the hurricane hit the country, in September of last year, the country’s six existing saltworks suffered great damage,” said a note published Tuesday in the newspaper Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, responding to complaints from customers that have seen salt disappear from the markets in recent months.
The national media and a manager of the state-owned Salt Company (Ensal) both point to the lack of iodine, which is imported from other countries, as the reason for the crisis and the forced halt in salt production in October and November of 2017.
Officials with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (Mincex) in Havana confirmed the information to 14ymedio. “The lack of liquidity is affecting many areas because we do not have the resources available to buy raw materials,” said an employee of the ministry, on condition of anonymity.
“The last months of 2017 and the first months of this year have been especially critical in the availability of funds to buy things ranging from products for the pharmaceutical industry to vital ingredients for the production of food,” the Mincex worker said.
“We are jumping through hoops trying to buy things, but there is no money and we have to prioritize one sector over another,” a high ranking official of Mincex told this newspaper. “We have temporarily resolved the issue of iodine, but we do not know if we can make the next purchase because our room to maneuver is very limited.”
Salt production decreased in recent years, when the extraction of unrefined salt went from just over 280,000 tons in 2011 to 248,000 tons in 2016. The authorities blamed this reduction on weather problems and the “technical obsolescence” of the industry.
The production of refined, iodized salt for ordinary consumption through the rationed market and the network of stores that sell in hard currency, has also been reduced from 93,700 tons in 2012 to 76,100 tons in 2016, according to the Statistical Yearbook.
Cuba is going through a crisis in the availability of money to import supplies, which has been aggravated by cuts in aid from Venezuela. “There is no liquidity because foreign currencies are not coming into the country, and the State deficit consumes everything in circulation,” says Elias Amor, a Cuban economist based in Spain.
In 2017, the National Statistics Office (ONE) revealed a drop in trade between Cuba and Venezuela of 70% in just two years. A collapse that was felt especially in the daily life of Cubans with the worsening of the food supply and greater difficulties in transportation.
Salt, however, seemed a product that could survive the ups and downs of the economy and be produced on the Island, a country with more than 5,000 kilometers of coastline. But the regulations established at the beginning of this century requiring adding iodine to the product have complicated the task.
At the beginning of the century, the rule to iodize salt for human consumption on the island began as a strategy to combat health problems associated with iodine deficiency.
“Without iodine, salt cannot be produced for sale to the population,” emphasizes Alberto Fuentes, a chemical engineer who dedicated three decades of his life to the salt industry in the central zone of the country. “That’s why when there is instability in the supply of iodine everything is paralyzed, because we can’t get salt out to the stores.”
“In this case, a ‘perfect storm’ of problems has occurred,” says the engineer. “The result is that there is no salt and people are starting to get upset because something so simple is missing.”
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